A team of Bath researchers 而且 a local GP are celebrating having been awarded over £1.5 million in funding to develop the ‘EarSwitch’ – the revolutionary device designed to enable people with conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) to communicate using a tiny, 隐藏耳朵肌肉.

这条消息是在2021年5月传出的 about the team’s work in developing the EarSwitch there has been widespread interest from right around the world in the project. The new funding is a major boost for the team, which they hope will now enable them to take their work to the next level, refining 而且 ultimately rolling out the product to users.

The EarSwitch is a small, earbud-like device. 插入耳朵, it uses an in-built camera to pick up movements of a tiny hidden muscle known as the tensor tympani allowing users to operate an assistive keyboard. (An assistive screen scans letters 而且 words which users can select by tensing the ear muscle).

Although many people may not be aware of their tensor tympani muscle, initial research from the team found that significant numbers are able to use it voluntarily, with the possibility it can be trained. If you yawn 而且 notice it is harder to hear or feel a fullness or rumbling sensation, that is your tensor tympani clicking into action.

The EarSwitch technology allows people who cannot use traditional input devices, such as a mouse or keyboard, to interact with a computer. With degenerative conditions such as MND, control of the tensor tympani muscle is thought to be preserved for longer than other muscles, 而且 so the team hope the technology can support users for longer.

In addition to harnessing the muscle to help people with neurological conditions, the team also believe applications could extend to ear controls for mobile phones, 或者游戏. The device is the brainchild of former Somerset-based GP, 尼克·格伯, who has partnered with experts from Bath across computer science, 电子工程, 和健康.

尼克龚珀兹博士 said: “I have always believed passionately in the huge potential of the EarSwitch for people living with degenerative conditions such as MND 而且 the transformative effects it could have in enabling them to communicate for longer.

“Working with the mg电子游戏摆脱 has allowed us to demonstrate widely that the EarSwitch presents a massive opportunity to help people communicate. Without their support 而且 publicity which has reached around the world, we would not have gained the traction to secure these two significant funding streams from NIHR.”

mg摆脱的团队包括 梅特卡夫博士本 而且 Dingguo Zhang博士 (电子 & 电气工程), 达里奥博士Cazzola 而且 丰富的史蒂文森博士 (健康), 克里斯·克拉克博士 (计算机科学).

The collaboration with 尼克·格伯 is thanks to the University’s Digital Innovation Business Acceleration Hub, funded by ERDF, 而且 the SETsquared Scale Up programme.

The first funding award is a £1.45 Million NIHR Product Development Award (PDA). This will help the team develop EarSwitch into a product with appropriate regulatory approval as a medical device. Additional partners for this project include a manufacturing consortium 而且 the Portsmouth Technology Trials Unit.

The second award is for £70,000 from NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i Connect). This project will explore the use of EarSwitch as a means to control an upper-limb exoskeleton or prosthesis. It will involve working with OpenBionics, a local manufacturer of 3D printed prostheses.

达里奥博士Cazzola 从大学的 卫生部门 explained: “This is a great achievement for EarSwitch 而且 demonstrates the importance of the work carried out during the previous NIHR i4i Connect grant. I am truly delighted that we can now bring this idea forward 而且 test the comfort, 可用性, 而且 functionality of a new device, purposely designed to enable people with neuro-disability to communicate.”

梅特卡夫博士本 从大学的 电子学系 & 电气工程 added: “I am delighted that EarSwitch has received significant follow-on funding from NIHR.

"This funding will enable us to develop the technology into a commercial product 而且 drive clinical impact. It will also allow us to explore the wider use cases for the technology across the assistive technology sector, supporting those most in need by enabling communication, 提高设备控制, 而且 enhancing quality of life.”